Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas

I only have one rule when it comes to dinner on Friday: I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen to make it happen. Sometimes that means we’ll pick up take-out, but most of the time I still cook. I just don’t pick anything super involved, or with a 3 hour cooking time. I’m lucky in that I work from home most of the time so Monday thru Thursday I don’t need to worry quite as much about having quick and easy meals on the menu. I have a little more freedom to, for example, pop something in the oven at 3 pm, if necessary, in order for us to eat at our usual time (around 7). It’s a luxury I really appreciate. By the time Friday rolls around, though, I’m spent, and more often than not, my kitchen is a bit of a mess from lots of cooking and baking during the week, and that’s when I’m very happy to have a handful of “weeknight” dishes I can turn to.

Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas

Technically, these adorable mini beef and cheese empanadas aren’t really quick and easy but they’re still perfect when you need to get dinner on the table in a snap because they can be made ahead and stored in your fridge or freezer and simply cooked at the last minute. You could easily spread out the process of making them over the course of a weekend (it’d be even faster if you have a partner to help with assembly) and then you can pull them out later in the week for a great from-scratch dinner! Alternatively, these empanadas would be a great appetizer idea for a party – their tiny size means they can easily be eaten out of hand without a lot of mess.

This was my first time making empanadas and, for that matter, it may even have been my first time eating them (I know!), but I’m 100% hooked. The dough was a complete surprise to me when I took my first bite. It’s made using the same ingredients as you might use for pie dough, and the process is similar, but the result was anything but. The outer crust was crisp, and inside it was flakier than any pie dough I’ve ever made. I could *almost* have believed the empanadas were fried if I didn’t know any better. The filling was flavorful, though pretty basic – meat, cheese, onion and some spices, but there’s no reason you couldn’t put your own spin on it. The possibilities are pretty much endless!

Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas

Happy Friday! This week has felt incredibly long (probably because every day was gray and dreary) and I’m so glad it’s finally the weekend :)

Make-Ahead Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas
from Cook’s Illustrated

Dough
3 3/4 cups (18 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and frozen for 10 minutes
1 1/4 cups ice water

Filling
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch ground cloves
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 pound 85% lean ground beef
3/4 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 large egg, beaten (for egg wash)

To make the dough: Add the flour, sugar and salt to your food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 16 pulses. Dump the contents of the food processor into a large bowl. Gradually add the ice water (about 1/4 cup at a time), and use a rubber spatula to work it into the dry ingredients. Continue until the dough comes together in a rough ball. You may not need all of the water, or, as I did, you may need slightly more. Turn the dough onto your work surface and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

To make the filling: Add the oil to a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, cloves and cayenne pepper, and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break it up. Brown the meat – this will take about 5 minutes. Add the beef broth and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue simmering until most of the liquid has cooked off, the meat should be moist but not wet, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pan and mix in the sugar then season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the filling to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cool. Remove the bowl, stir in the cheese, then re-cover and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use (up to 3 days).

To assemble the empanadas: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with one disk of the dough at a time, place it on a lightly floured work surface and roll into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out as many circles of dough as you can (for me it was about 20). Transfer them to one of the prepared baking sheets. (The folks at CI said not to reroll scraps as it made the dough tough in the empanadas so try to get as many rounds as you can on the first go-round.) Repeat with the second disk, placing those rounds on a second baking sheet. Depending on how quickly you worked, you may want to cover the sheets and refrigerate the dough briefly before continuing with assembly. If the dough is still cold, you can move on to the next step immediately.

Place 1 rounded teaspoon of the filling in the center of each round of dough. Dip your finger in a small bowl of water and moisten the edges of the dough. Fold the dough over into a half-moon shape so the edges meet. Press them together with your fingers to seal, then use a fork to crimp (you can dip the fork in flour if it’s sticking to the dough). Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue until you’ve filled and sealed all of the empanadas.

Options for Cooking:

1. To bake immediately: Preheat oven to 425 F with racks in the upper and lower third. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash then bake for about 20 minutes (rotating the baking sheets halfway through), or until the empanadas are golden brown.

2. To store in the refrigerator: After assembly you can store in the empanadas in the refrigerator on the baking sheets. Just cover them tightly with plastic wrap, they’ll be fine for up to 3 days. The baking time and temperature will be the same as if you’d baking them immediately.

3. To freeze: Cover the baking sheets tightly with plastic wrap and freeze the empanadas completely. To save space, once they’re frozen, you can transfer the empanadas to a resealable plastic bag for storage. When you’re ready to bake, there’s no need to defrost. Just put them on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 425 F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Allow the empanadas to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Makes about 40-48 mini empanadas